Water Is Such a Big Deal in Chile That It’s Getting a Ministry

Managing shrinking water reserves has become such a big ticket item in Chile that the South American nation is giving H2O its own ministry.

The government sent a bill to congress that will transform the Public Works Ministry into the Public Works and Water Resources Ministry, an entity that will oversee and coordinate the 43 institutions in Chile that deal with water.

Belatedly for water rights advocates, the government is trying to improve oversight of arguably the most privatized water system in the world. Broader unrest among Chileans over inequalities, the worst drought in more than a decade and climate change are combining to make water a key topic in the process to draft a new constitution. In parallel, lawmakers are debating changes to water regulations.

Water Is Such a Big Deal in Chile That It’s Getting a Ministry

Underscoring the challenge: the central region, where most Chileans live, has seen rainfall decrease by almost 30% in the last 20 years.

“All studies agree that this situation will only worsen in the coming decades,” Alfredo Moreno, the current Public Works Minister, said in an interview Friday.

In Chile, the law states that water is a good for public use and that human consumption must be prioritized. But the constitution also underscores water rights as private property. A study from Universidad Catolica’s Center for Water Law and Management found that among 92 constitutions 31 made no mention of water, 10 said water is a human right, with Chile’s “the only one that explicitly enshrines private property over water use rights,” according to an emailed statement.

Many lawmakers, especially from opposition parties, want to change that. In recent years, cases have surfaced of local communities running out of water while nearby large farms continue to irrigate crops.

“The new ministry will help channel and lead that discussion,” Moreno said, adding that the goal is to ensure consumption as well as investment. “The rights have to have some sort of permanence over time otherwise that person won’t be able to complete its activities.”

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